Word-of-mouth business is the closest thing we’ve got to perpetual motion in the freelance world. Not only are freelance referrals easier to get to sign on the dotted line—because your business has a third-party endorsement—they’re also far more likely to be easy to work with. With rare exceptions, a good client won’t send you a bad client. First, because a good client wants you to succeed. Second, because their own reputation is on the line. (Obligatory note of caution: Be wary of word-of-mouth business from not-so-hot clients, who have a penchant for passing along their equally challenging pals.)
The Basics of Boosting Your Freelance Referrals
If you’re not getting as many freelance referrals as you used to, or as many as it seems like your peers get or you believe your skills and results warrant, you may need to develop a system. Here’s where I recommend starting:
- Do you ever actually *ask* for referrals? In an ideal world, referrals would simply flow in without effort. In reality, gracefully asking (or casually mentioning that you’re “a referral-based business”) is something you need to work into your process, starting with the first phone call or contact.
- When you do ask, how do you position it? While I’m using the word referrals as shorthand for word-of-mouth business, it can take the pressure off if you ask for an introduction: “Do you have any colleagues who might need (editing for their book, web content writing, brochure design, etc.)?”
- How well diversified are you? If you only have a few clients, you’re instantly limiting your potential for freelance referrals. Same is true for the diversification of your service offerings and the types of media you work in.
- Is your website professional looking and functional? I’ve read stats that 80- or 90-something percent of people look at a website before buying services. Hogwash. I guarantee it’s 100%. And yes, the prospective client will judge you on the look and usability as well as the content. Same principles apply, to a lesser extent, for LinkedIn and even your social media presence.
- Do you always provide exceptional work? Yeah, this one speaks for itself. No laurel-resting allowed.
- Do clients find you easy to work with? The client experience—your communications, responsiveness, amiability, grace under pressure, and so on—is every bit as important as the quality of your creative output.
- Without fail, do you send a note to thank the clients who refer you? Clients who willingly provide you with business opportunities are the coolest cats in the business world. Express your sincere gratitude, each and every time, even if the referral doesn’t work out.